Someone tagged the shiny new bus stop shelter
just days after the glass got busted out.
Fat nasty letters graffitied on the boarded up frame
commanded, Don’t Gentrify Us!
We spy small movements here and there.
The man who bought the old firehouse and sat
on it for 7 years is making “artist share spaces”
with luxury apartments above. He makes sure the doors
and windows, fences and barriers are hood proof for now.
He doesn’t speak to neighbors while he works.
He and one of his golden hair boys hunch over
this new project, loose limbed and unbothered,
with a palpable air of ownership—like when a dog
runs up on a new spot, sniffs it out, claims it and sprays.
The entire avenue has gone to crap,
said one long time resident as she
shakes her silver rod set in my direction.
That’s how you know it’s changing she says—
when it’s allowed to sit and rot with no interventions,
just endless meetings to distract and defeat.
She tells me that the vultures will swoop in and collect
shells and reimagine relics; then defiantly confides to me,
but they won’t collect these old bones!
I know that’s right, I say back at her as we
pass one empty storefront after another—
display windows barren, riot gates shuttered.
On one of the neighborhood’s social media pages,
the newcomers are a particularly crafty bunch,
holding full court virtual councils on our hood.
It starts with an assertion or accusation of an eyesore;
sometimes a photo branded “bad renovations” is posted;
or someone doesn’t like another’s siding or
choice of windows or painted brick facade.
The overseers have an aesthetic and they’re
ticked that the masses don’t follow.
Remember your 8th grade bullies?
Remember senseless playground rumbles?
Remember getting jacked up after school, just because?
It’s like that except the bullies are all grown now
and they tow their elitism, classism and racism
across Zuckerberg’s virtual stage and puff chests
and huff and heave with each click and post.
The “SELL US YOUR HOME” leaflets invade our mailboxes.
Gaudy loud colored flyers and bandit signs are stapled
on telephone poles. Robocalls and personalized text
messages urge us to Sell, Sell, Sell our piece of property.
Brad or Mike or Jason want to take our burden of a home
off our hands and into his to bulldoze or to pile on two
extra stories of boxy condos; and then suddenly, the streets
will be cleaned and garages will replace basements and faces
too will be replaced. Some have taken the cash and exited,
others hold out, but patient speculators watch the block,
and we watch them; each side driving stakes deep into the concrete.
And then just like that,
the world hurled its magnificent body against us all,
Rammed the pandemic right into our lives and routines and ugliness.
And just for a moment, we were all raw, all scathed, all gutted.
And just for a moment, we raised our white flags and paused.
So now we’re here.
After 365 harrowing days,
after we’ve lost and mourned and isolated;
we are here now. We are here now.
2020 made the mice and pigeons anxious too.
They thieved the breadcrumbs right off those old trails
we once refused to abandon and now we can’t go back.
And now we must resist the urge
to wound, to pierce one another.
Even if we falter or fault or fail
and think all has dissolved,
even if in our blue blue moments
we think we too may disappear
and we hang our heads so low
that it shadows our new paths
even then, we have to point ourselves forward.
There is still life here
and this is where we will pick up from.
A neighbor clears the trash with her lone broom,
her 80 decade old fingers grip the handle
her stooped back bends just at the right angle
to spy me moving toward her to grab her haul—
bottles and cans and plastic bags and bits of stupid
stuff that littering people drop along streets when
they think no one cares. We stand there together,
nearly two generations apart and grin at our progress.
Here on this forgotten block, we are pointing ourselves forward.
There is still life here people.
If we try a little tenderness, we will nurture it.
Even with warning signs of
what’s to come tagged on bus stops,
even with elders clutching their bones on the avenue
and abandoned store fronts pleading
and new construction notices and moving trucks,
and leaflets that offend with promises to devour us,
there is still life.
We are still a beautiful people.
We are still breaking through.
We are still holding steady.
We are still pointing ourselves forward.
Copyright © 2021 by Trapeta B. Mayson This poem originally appeared in PACDC Magazine: The Future is Now, April 2021. Used with permission of the author.
“When did the ‘present’ begin?”
When the tyrant’s voice comes on the car radio, I close my eyes in an effort to slow the rate at which hopelessness enters me. With this act, I hurl myself faster toward extinction.
Every morning, I stretch, put food in my throat, and fail to forgive myself.
At night, I sit down to watch last year’s extinctions paint the wall, while next time’s fire buffers in a perpetual next time.
Somewhere between these, I occupy the present tense, with all the confidence of a settler.
Sometime before was when the things we survived happened. What am I surviving today: the war or its unending ending?
I remember none of it and so live without language for its opposite.
The country (was/is) divided, the US military (occupied/has occupied) the country, I (return/am returning) there.
What is the opposite of the present tense?
(I’m speaking, I say, until it’s no longer true.)
I love next time. I love it with all the declarative confidence of a child who’s never fished the softened bodies of her parents from a river as soldiers chew cud.
History hangs inside me, like a dependent clause.
History ends when its mirrors rush from the future like brake lights, polishing me into language.
After the catastrophe. By polishing me; through buffering grammar. In red memories dotting the highway smudged out by a storm. By the tyrant, unevenly distributed. With current.
The screech of tires is just the sound of my past catching up with yours.
Copyright © 2023 by Franny Choi. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 31, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
I am lonely
for my friends.
They liked me,
trusted my coming.
I think they looked up at me
more than other people do.
I who have been staring down so long
see no reason for the sorrows humans make.
I dislike the scuffle and dust of bombs blasting
very much. It blocks my view.
A landscape of sorrow and grieving
feels different afterwards.
Different sheen from a simple desert,
children who say my name
like a prayer.
Sometimes I am bigger than
a golden plate,
a giant coin
and everyone gasps.
Maybe it is wrong
that I am so calm.
From The Tiny Journalist (BOA Editions, Ltd. 2019) by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 2019 by Naomi Shihab Nye. Used with the permission of the poet.
I dreamed a pronouncement
about poetry and peace.
“People are violent,”
I said through the megaphone
on the quintessentially
to the rabble stretching
all the way up First.
“People do violence
unto each other
and unto the earth
and unto its creatures.
Poetry,” I shouted, “Poetry,”
I screamed, “Poetry
changes none of that
by what it says
or how it says, none.
But a poem is a living thing
made by living creatures
(live voice in a small box)
and as life
it is all that can stand
up to violence.”
I put down the megaphone.
The first clap I heard
was my father’s,
then another, then more,
wishing for the same thing
in different vestments.
I never thought, why me?
I had spoken a truth
offered up by ancestral dreams
and my father understood
as I understood the mighty man
still caught in the vapor
between this world and that
when he said, “The true intellectual
speaks truth to power.”
If I understand my father
as artist, I am free,
said my friend, of the acts
of her difficult father.
So often it comes down
to the father, his showbiz,
while the mother’s hand
shapes us, beckons us
to ethics, slaps our faces
when we err, soothes
the sting, smoothes the earth
we trample daily, in light
and in dreams. Rally
all your strength, rally
what mother and father
together have made:
us on this planet,
From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press.
You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart
You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees
You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats
You protecting the river You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick
You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose
You taking your medicine, reading the magazines
You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.
You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe
You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet
You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June
Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts
You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal
You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME
You are who I love, you struggling to see
You struggling to love or find a question
You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes
You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping
You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream
You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies
Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens
You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.
You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children
You cactus, water, sparrow, crow You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,
getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds
You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail
You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations
You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick
You are who I love, sighing in your sleep
You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut
You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still
You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses
You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand
You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to
You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair
You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert
You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,
bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late
You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home
You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often
You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love I love
your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there
How “Fuck you” becomes a love song
You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face
You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love You are who I love You and you and you are who
Copyright © 2017 by Aracelis Girmay. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.